28 December 2015

I blew out my data

Controlling your data

When you are on the road you don’t have the luxury of large amounts of data at a home plan rate. Wireless data is expensive whatever country you are in, and the USA is no different.

When we came into the USA a few months ago, we blew out our data plan four times! Unlike home plans, they don’t just throttle you back - they give you another gig and charge you double than if you had included it in your plan, and when you’ve used that they give you another one. We thought we were being very careful, and while it has never been this bad, it has happened before. So it was time to find some answers and fix the problem!

Fixing the problem

Firstly I went into my System Preferences on my Mac and then:

Under Notifications - I turned off all notifications on every application, except Tunnel Bear. I use Tunnel Bear on my laptop to make a secure connection for banking or accessing my passwords when I’m using a public WiFi. You need to know when the line is secure, so you need to be notified on a banner.

Under the App store – turn off “Automatically check for updates”, you will need to manually check for these now. There is a “Check Now” button under this section.

Under Flash Player – check the “notify me to install updates” box. That way you can update them when you are on another network.

Check for other applications that might be sending data to and from the cloud such as Dropbox, Photos, Evernote and turn them off.

We downloaded an app called Surplus Meter for the Mac laptops and My Data Manager for the iPad. There are many programs like this out there, so take your pick. You will need to split your data allocation up between your devices. It resets each day, but also gives you a running monthly total. You can suspend it while you are using someone else’s network.

It’s interesting to see which websites use bucket loads of data. You then have a choice to decide whether to avoid them.

Installing Ad Blockers can vastly reduce your bandwidth consumed.

What happens when I go over?

We have a contract plan with Verizon. When we go over they charge $15 per gigabyte, when you use that up, they give you another etc. When we were with AT&T, it was $10 for each extra gig. Verizon is better for the West Coast, and I have heard that both are good for the East Coast. The other carriers are good if you’re in a major city or large towns. If you travel around a lot like we do, you are stuck with the major (more expensive) players.

Leaving the country

When we leave the country we suspend our plan and reduce it to the lowest amount which is 4Gb, unfortunately we can only suspend it for 90 days, not the total time we are away – so when we have to pay but aren’t using it, we want the lowest amount possible.

Be careful when you suspend your account as they pro-rata the data by the number of days you are connected, so on a 30 day month, 8Gb for 15 days is really only 4Gb. Go over 4Gb and you will have an overage bill. The catch here is that if you wait for your month to end and are out of the country, you can’t suspend it online, you can however contact them on chat and they can report it as lost or stolen.

With Verizon, before the month is up, you can change your data plan to reflect what you think you are going to use. It was still on 4Gb when we came back into the country and we went over by 4Gb which would have generated a $60 overage fee. By increasing our data limit on the last day to 8Gb, they reversed our 4Gb plan and charged us for an 8Gb plan which saved us $40. Luckily they don’t charge you for changing plans.


Why didn’t we go with prepaid? You don’t have the variety of plans, really just 5gb & 10gb. Then we would have to get a new SIM card every time we enter the country.

12 December 2015

Campground Review - Cathedral Springs CA

Site 41

Cathedral Palms RV Resort

35901 Cathedral Canyon Drive, Cathedral City CA

Why we chose here? We were meeting up with friends in Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Palm Desert

Location: In between Palm Springs and Desert Springs, CA

Sites: 145 – 33 50 amp FHU, 14 E & W, all the rest are FHU 30amp

Facilities: Pool, Recreational room, pickleball court, restrooms, free wifi

Groceries: shops are a 7 minute drive away

Reservations: Yes

Cell Coverage / WiFi:
Their Wifi was unusable at our site, it is strongest in the recreational room

Price Paid: $43 + tax

Date of visit: December 2015

Other: We were in site 41, wifi was terrible and we had noise from the equipment hire place next door using air compressors.

Would we come here again? Not sure, we would look at alternatives first.

6 December 2015

Wrapping up 2015

Watson Lake AZ

After the dentist in Yuma we went north to Cave Creek in AZ to catch up with our friends Bill & Michele. Lindsay took the opportunity to get the truck and trailer detailed to keep it looking good. One of the days we went up to Prescott to have lunch and then onto Watson Lake, which is really pretty. Another day we took a picnic up to Yellow Cliffs at Bartlett Lake in the Tonto National Forest.

Yellow Cliffs, Bartlett Lake AZ

A first for us was meeting up with a couple whose blog I follow – Mona-Liza and Steve. They were staying in nearby Cave Creek state park, less than 10 minutes from where we were. We spent a couple of hours drinking red wine and swapping stories. They have been to Australia where Mona-Liza fell in love with sticky date pudding, it just happens to be one of my specialities, so I've sent her the recipe. They have been to nearly every state in America, so have lots of information and ideas that I will be able to use for our upcoming North-east coast trip next year.

I had booked a week in Cathedral Springs as it was so nice down there when we visited a few months ago. Many snowbirds come from all over North America to spend winter here. I was looking forward to some mild weather but unfortunately Mr El Niño had other ideas, giving us 10 degrees cooler temperatures than normal. We had some great catch up dinners with Cameron & Christine, Lane & Debbie, and Ben & Amy.

I managed to talk Lindsay into a hike up Whitewater Canyon. After about half a mile we came upon the famous Pacific Crest Trail and stayed on it for the next 1.5 miles. The Ranger said that about 300 people attempt the mammoth 2,663 mile walk each year. It goes from the Mexican border to the Canadian Border up over the Sierras. So you are probably going to have to deal with 100°F temperatures and snow. After the movie Wild came out the number increased to 800, but many only walked a short way. By absolute coincidence, we had watched the movie the night before but hadn’t realised that our walk would be any where near the PCT. Even on our fairly cool day we got quite warm and stashed our jumpers behind a bush to retrieve later; I would hate to think what it would be like in 100°F.

Lindsay booked our truck in for a problem with the diff because it was leaking oil. The prognosis was not good and they wouldn’t give our truck back to us until they have completely rebuilt the differential. Hopefully this will be covered under warranty. As it’s Christmas it won’t be ready until after we have left the country. So lucky we don’t need it to leave the States this time as we are flying.

Our last week, including Christmas was spent with our good friends Dale and Shelly. They are at 3,200ft, so it is even colder than down in the low desert. But not cold enough yet for snow, so no white Christmas!

After spending winter on Vancouver Island last year, we decided this year we would go somewhere warmer. After watching an episode of Househunter’s International on Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, we decided that it looked like a great place to go. It’s a favourite spot for winter with Americans and Canadians on the coast of the mainland (as opposed to the Baja). From Mexico City draw a straight line to the west coast and you will have the approximate location. Temperatures will be somewhere in the 20’s, just the way I like it. We will be living a normal life for a change, living in once place for more than a week and without a house that moves.

The night before we fly out we're watching 'Beach Front Bargain Hunt' and it’s on a Canadian couple wanting to buy in Puerto Vallarta – it’s a sign! The weather outlook for next week is 27°C - 29°C (79-82°F) - perfect.

2 December 2015

Going to the dentist in Mexico

Mittry Lake Yuma

Dentist in Los Algodones?

If you are thinking of going to the dentist in Los Algodones, Mexico

Here are some things you might want to know…these are based on our experience

How do I get there?

From Yuma travel along the I-8 going towards San Diego, turn left at the Los Algodones sign. Quechan casino is on the corner. Go down this road until you can see the border crossing ahead of you. There is a parking lot to the right, turn into these gates and drive around to the entry booth. In 2015 the fee for parking is $6, cash.

You then just walk across the border. No-one will ask for your passport on entry, but you will need it to come back into the USA. Towards the end of the day, the line to come back in can be quite long, so try and make an appointments as early as possible. Part of the walkway is undercover, but take a hat.

Where do I stay?

You have a few choices, either a motel/hotel in Yuma or in Los Algodones; or

If have an RV: Yuma has many RV parks, or you can dry camp in the Casino for $10 for 3 nights. There is an RV park on the road to the border. Since the Casino started charging, most people have just moved down the road to boondock.
The back of the Quechan casino

Who do I see?

You can just walk into any dentist as a walk in, but the best ones may be booked out. Try and get a referral from a friend. The first time I went there I just walked into one dentist and got an appointment straight away. They charge more and did a lousy job of cleaning my teeth. What’s more they said I had 5 fillings without taking x-rays – I got a second opinion from Erika. She did x-rays and I didn’t have any fillings – so it pays to be careful.

We went to Erika Medina

Tel: (658) 517-7866

1st Street Suite 101 Flamingo’s plaza, Los Algodones BC, Mexico

www.medinadentalcare.com - you can organise an appointment via email.

Their surgery works on Yuma time zone, not Mexico. Check with whoever you go to what time zone they work off.

How much will I pay?

These prices were in December 2015 in USD
  • Exam, clean and x-rays $25
  • Deep clean (needles and cleaning below gum) $150 per quadrant
  • Root canal $250
  • Crown $200
Payments by cash or USA check (cheque)

Waiting Times

  • A week in between a deep clean and a crown
  • It might take a week to get an appointment to have a deep clean after your first examination
  • You will need 3 appointments for the crown – I’m assuming one is for the initial mold, then a test, then the real thing – the last two can be done a day apart

18 November 2015

San Diego Sunshine

Lighthouse on Point Lomas

San Diego is touted as having the best weather in America, so I looked forward to going there. It didn’t disappoint, the days were warm and sunny. I found a lovely county park in Bonita, near Chula Vista just south of San Diego which I booked thinking that it would be busy. It wasn’t, in fact there were many places vacant.

Our first trip out was to Point Loma. Cabrillo National Monument is there as some explorer arrived back in the 1700’s, a lighthouse, in fact two because the first one was in the wrong spot, and a military base as this land was very vulnerable during WWII and was a way of protecting San Diego bay. I had wondered why some of the most sought after land was a park and not residential, now I know. There are some rock pools there also which you can access at low tide but of course we weren’t there at the correct time. What you do get though, is a fantastic view of San Diego from the water.
Looking over San Diego Bay

A number of people had told us that we must go to San Diego Zoo. I wasn’t convinced seeing as we see many animals in their natural habitat but Lindsay still wanted to go, so go we went. We concentrated on photographing animals that we don’t normally see in the wild. The Toucan, some South American birds, and the Giant Panda. With our ticket, we also got admission to the Safari Park which is about an hour north of the city. We had heard that they have a cheetah run which excited Lindsay enough to carry his tripod around all day in the heat. The animals that interested us here were the tigers and the gorillas. The gorillas in the zoo were behind perspex and sat with their backs to us, so it was nice to see them out in the open.

Siberian Tiger
Giant Panda

USS Midway museum is an aircraft carrier built in 1945, which you can now go aboard and see how it operated. You could spend all day there going around to all the different areas with the self-guided audio tour. We just visited the bridge and the planes.

USS Midway

The ship needs to be going 30 miles an hour for the planes to land and take off safely. They take off in quite a short distance at the front so that they use the speed of the carrier to help them get up in the air. Coming back, the speed of the carrier going in the opposite direction to the planes helps them stop.

It took $90m and 18 months to build in 1945, and it had a $260m overhaul in 1966.

It had a crew of 4,500, and unlike today, they were all men.
Hotel de Coronado

Hotel del Coronado is a historic beachfront hotel just across the San Diego Bay from San Diego.
When it opened in 1888, it was the largest resort hotel in the world

Beachfront at Coronado

Campground Review - Near San Diego CA

Site 31

Sweetwater County Park Campground

3218 Summit Meadow Road, Bonita CA

Location: South East of San Diego, near Chula Vista

Why we chose here? Near San Diego

Sites: 150, The South loop has partial shade sites with gravel pads. Number of: 7 FHU, 41 W&E, 12 W&E Equestrian. Pull throughs on the inside of the loop, back-in on the outside. The North Loop has no shade but with concrete pads, nearly all pull throughs. Number of sites: 51 FHU

Facilities: Dump, Community Center, Trailheads, Restrooms, Showers

Groceries: Chula Vista

Reservations: Yes $5 fee. It was less than half full when we were there, we did not need to register after all, but you never know. Even on the weekend, it was only half full.

Cell Coverage / WiFi: Verizon works here, but there is a free wifi at the office near site 32

Price Paid: $33 FHU, $29 W&E

Date of visit: Mid November 2015

Would we come here again? Yes. This is a lovely campground. Our site #31 FHU was huge and we could access their wifi.

looking across the road from our site to the central sites

13 November 2015

Campground Review - Boondocking in Anza-Borrego Desert CA

Rockhouse Trail 

A campsite on the right hand side of the trail

Why we chose here? We were on our way to San Diego

Location: Rockhouse trail is off the SR22 in the Anza Borrego Desert CA. Two hours east of San Diego, west of Salton City, near the Salton Sea. There is a green street sign, so you shouldn’t miss it. More than likely there will be other RV's there as it's a well known boondocking area.

Sites: Quit a few, look for the rock ringed fire pits

Facilities: None, it’s primitive camping

Groceries: 7 miles to Borrego Springs

Reservations: No

Cell Coverage / WiFi: Both Verizon and AT&T work here. The further you go from the SR22, the weaker the signal

Price Paid: $0

Date of visit: Mid November 2015

It's just a big open space


This is a low desert so has the same temperature as say Palm Springs. There can be high winds as this is a desert.

Fuel and food are available in Borrego Springs 7 miles away

The road at the Salton Sea end is extremely bumpy (warped) until you get into the State Park area, so you will have to travel slowly if you are towing.

Friday is market day at the Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs

There is a one-page list of do’s and don’ts stapled to a post when you come in – don’t leave pets unattended, take your rubbish out with you, do not collect firewood (no trees anyway!), BYO firewood, fires in metal containers only, do not trample on vegetation and you can’t stay more than 30 days in a calendar year.

There are many other places to boondock off the SR22 such as Peg Leg.

ATV’s are restricted to the opposite side of Rockhouse, so you don’t have them camping here.

Would we come here again? Yes 

12 November 2015

Land of the Giants, Past and Present

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

6am outside our Trailer

After spending some time in Yucca Valley catching up with friends and getting a few maintenance issues done such as brakes and wheel bearings on the trailer, brakes, tyre balancing and front end alignment on the truck. It was time to find somewhere warmer. Winter had come early and being in the high desert it was starting to get cold. Day light saving ended and it was getting dark around five. We had five days before we were due at the state park near San Diego in mid November, so we didn’t want to go too far afield. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a low desert east of San Diego and west of the Salton Sea. There is a difference of 10°F between the low and high desert, and the difference between 60° and 70° can mean that you are a bit cold or nice and warm. Low desert sounded good.

We are boondocking here in ABDSP, one of the few State Parks that allows primitive camping for free. Our neighbours are a few hundred yards away; it’s really quiet and pitch black at night. If we need a town, Borrego Springs is only 7 miles away. Our days started out in the mid 70’s with just a slight breeze, which meant we could get back into t-shirts. It was very relaxing.

Eons ago the park used to be part of the Californian Gulf, that is, under the water. Over the years the sediment from the Grand Canyon filled up this part of the sea and a desert was formed. They have found bones from numerous prehistoric animals such as mammoths, elephants and camels.

The park has 180 miles of walking tracks but we only intended to do a select few. The visitors centre’s guide gives you details of 20 walks to get you going.

Some trails are all uphill

Ghost Mountain Walk

Our first walk was to Ghost Mountain where a family called the Marshal-Souths decided to live off the land during the Great Depression. They built a home, called Yaquitepec on the top of a hill, which is not visible from down below. They raised their children there, growing vegetables and writing articles for magazines. It would have been a very hard life and after sixteen years the wife finally had enough and the family broke up. The house is now in ruins with only parts of a few walls remaining. It’s a mile up a steep rocky trail to get there, so I guess you would really plan your trips to town.

South House, there's not much left

Giant Sculptures

Borrego Springs Road has some very large freestanding sculptures made out of tin placed out in the desert; the visitor centre gave us a map as they are spread out, but mainly in two areas. There are dinosaurs, wild horses, sloths, elephants, a serpent, camels, sabretooth tigers, wild pigs, tortoises, scorpions, birds, a grasshopper, farm workers, a saguaro and a Spanish padre. It took quite a while to see them all so we spread it over two days.


Fighting Horses
The town of Julian is renowned for its pies. It wasn’t far from here so we went out there to check out what all the fuss was about. The road was very windy and narrow, so instead of taking Yaqui Pass back to camp, we went up Highway 78. The town is quite high and the temperature gauge dropped 15-20°, not t-shirt weather! We went to our first American diner, sat at the counter and Lindsay ordered for a milkshake. They didn’t understand him, so I had to translate. It turned out to be a thickshake, more ice cream than milk, but that’s okay as it’s the way I like it anyway. They asked if we wanted it in two glasses, we agreed. Good call. There is no way either of us could have drunk one each. So many shops were serving apple pies that we just had to choose one and we ordered our favourite - apple crumble. Even with cream, it was way too sweet for me, and I have a sweet tooth.

The Slot Canyon

The second walk we did was to The Slot – the slot canyons. Unlike Antelope Canyon in Arizona, you don’t need to do a tour to see these ones, but then nor are they as pretty. The canyon is very narrow in places so if there were other people there you wouldn’t be able to pass them. Most of the tourists start coming after 10am, so I was glad we came earlier and more rolled up as we were leaving. You can just imagine the force of the water, as it would rush through here during a flood.

Our last walk was to be to the palm grove in Borrego Palm Canyon but high winds on our last two days squashed that idea; we couldn’t go outside without being blown over. That’s the desert for you. We never quite got to Fonts Point for sunset either. So a few things to keep for another time.

You can download a PDF map of the park from their website and/or you can buy a paper map from the Parks office. There is no entrance fee to the park.

Related Post:

Boondocking at Rockhouse Track, Anza-Borrego Desert

21 October 2015

Bend and beyond

Dillon Falls
Bend is only a short drive from Mitchell OR, so it was a nice short haul. I had planned to stay in Tumarlo State Park but as two loops had been closed for winter there were only a few sites vacant. They were either too small for us or we could only stay one night at a time, due to reservations so we looked elsewhere. We found the Expo campgrounds in Redmond just north of Bend. It had large sites, a great layout and a nice laundry.

We’d done some online shopping and had it delivered to the Bend Post Office. It was supposed to be free delivery but because they had used a courier, the Post Office charged us delivery from the point of origin to Bend again, as a penalty for not using their service. Lindsay tried to argue with them, but got nowhere. Will try not to make that mistake again.

Bend Waterfalls

I wanted to photograph the Tumarlo falls but they were closed off due to a new pipeline being built. These falls are supposed to be the highest in the area and I had just got a neutral density filter that I wanted to try out. Neutral density filters allow you to lower your f/stop and leave the shutter open for a longer time so that you can blur the water without losing all the data in the highlights. We found some other falls south of town – Dillon Falls and Benham Falls but I wouldn’t call these waterfalls.

Benham Falls

Smith Rock State Park

North of where we were staying is the Smith Rock State Park, which is a very popular place for rock climbing. There are a number of trails and we did the river trail that took us around the base of the rocks along the Crooked River. We met Tim at the beginning of our walk who was travelling on the road for a few months with his girlfriend, but she as had gone back to bed, he came with us. They had just spent a couple of years working in Seville Spain. As this is where we want to go next year I had lots of questions to ask him.

Smith Rock State Park

Rock climbing anyone?

Crater Lake

This was around the time of the hurricane down in Mexico near Puerto Vallarta and the follow on from that was affecting the weather not only in Texas but also where we were.

Crater Lake, not at it's best...

When we got to Crater Lake the cloud cover made it impossible to get any decent photographs. There had not been any sunrises or sunsets for days and the outlook was for more of the same. It’s a beautiful place and the lake is usually a brilliant blue, but as it was overcast, the water was reflecting the grey sky and was lifeless.

Crater Lake is a mountain that became a lake when a volcano erupted 7,700 years ago. A deep basin was created where the mountain peak used to be. Centuries of rain and snow have filled the basin to form a deep blue clear lake, the deepest in the USA. It has no other water source, which ensures that little sediment is added to the water. While the volcano inside Mt Mazama is currently sleeping, it is not extinct; so it could erupt again.

You can see some of the blue
Too cold, coupled with a freezing wind to go hiking, we limited our stay to the 33-mile rim drive around the lake. There are a number of easy and moderate hikes in the park, and I would have like to have seen Vidae Falls, maybe next time. The campgrounds in the park are closed at this time of year but they allow you to dry camp in the Sno Park off the highway 62 near the south entrance for free.

I had planned a trip down Highway 395 to take in Mono Lakes, Mammoth Lakes, Bishop and Lone Pine. Winter has set in early this year and nights are getting a bit cold. So with cold weather and no sunrises or sunsets, we moved south more quickly than originally planned.

Sunset at Dale & Shelly's

In Yucca Valley we caught up with our friends Dale and Shelly whom we hadn’t seen since we came back from Kenya over a year ago, could it have been that long? Understandably we had lots to catch up on. We also caught up with our friends Cameron and Christine who had lent us their house on Vancouver Island last winter. They have a permanent site in a lovely RV park and use it for the winter months in Desert Springs, which is only an hour away from Yucca Valley. Our other Canadian friends Lane and Debbie were down as well, they have a lovely renovated condo in Palm Desert, so we caught up with them too. Their street intercepts El Paseo, which is full of high-end shops and restaurants. Desert Springs is in the low desert near Palm Springs, so the weather is perfect at this time of year. We will come back here just before Christmas.

16 October 2015

Campground Review - Boondocking near Painted Hills OR

Boondocking site - Mitchell OR

Our site on the left as you go in the gate

Why we chose here? It is close to the Painted Hills unit of the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument

Location: Burnt Ranch Road. About 1.5 miles from the corner of the Ochoco Highway and Burnt Ranch Road. It is 4.5 miles to the Painted Hills. You can see it from the road, you can't miss it.

View from out site

There are two other BLM campgrounds further on past the Painted Hills unit. If you go to the BLM branch in Prineville they will give you a map which shows all camping and services in the area. This one is not marked on the map.

Sites: about 6. When you drive in, you have the choice or right or left. The right one is on a bit of a slope and you will probably have the area to yourself. This is the one we stayed in.

Facilities: None

Groceries: Shop before you come

Reservations: No

Cell Coverage / WiFi: None, the nearest cell/data service is at Mitchell about 3 miles from the turn off the main highway.

Price Paid: $0

Date of visit: Mid October 2015

Cheetahs, Tigers, & Camels once roamed Oregon

Painted Hills, it took me four trips to get sun on the hills
Would you believe it?

The John Day fossil beds have uncovered the bones of many extinct animals that roamed the grasslands and forests up to approximately 55 million years ago. The region was home to camels, elephants, three-toed horses, rhinos, cheetahs and tigers, amazing but true.

the first afternoon that we arrived, the sun was out

The John Day fossil beds encompass three units: the Painted Hills, the Clarno and Sheep Rock. We based ourselves near the Painted Hills and did a day trip to Sheep rock.

There are a number of short trails at the Painted Hills and we walked the Carroll Rim trail (1.6 miles), The Painted Hills Overlook Trail (0.5mi) the Red Hill Trail (0.25mi) and the Painted Cove trail (0.25mi). The whole time we were there it was overcast which made getting a photo very difficult. There are signs everywhere asking people not to walk on the hills as they are very delicate and once there are footprints they don't fade. But of course there are many many people who either can't read or don't care. It's a shame. The surface looks like a popcorn ceiling, maybe this is where they got the idea.

We gave up waiting for a sunny day and drove to Sheep Rock anyway, which is about 45 miles away. This is where the Paleontology Centre is located. Inside is a fossil museum gallery which has been very well done, it explains about all the animal fossils found in the area. This isn't the age of the dinosaurs, this is about mammals.

the Blue Basin

About two miles up the road is the Blue Basin Area. A man must have named this as it is more green than blue. When we play Monopoly Deal, it's the men who get the powder blue and powder green colours of the properties mixed up; they think they are the same, so I think it's a colour blindness. Even the crystals that we walked on were a definite green. And even Lindsay said I wonder what makes it green. So that's settled it's the Green Basin. There are two walks in the area - the 3-mile overlook trail that climbs 780ft and a one mile trail that leads you into the middle of the basin. We did both with a break for lunch in between.

Three miles long, 750ft up
Related Blogs:
BLM campground review